If, like me, you are in love with all things British, and indulge in binge-watching British films and TV shows, you may want to watch /rewatch some of these shows as a summer guilty pleasure. If you also happen to be travelling to the UK, why not visit some of the locations for the shows as well? You can find below a selection of my own British favourites, arranged by chronological order. You may find some others in this older blog post. [These shows are suitable for adult audiences].
Upstairs Downstairs (LWT 1971-1975):
The show follows the lives of both the affluent Bellamy family and their servants. And there are times when you really don’t know who the protagonists are, as downstairs inhabitants are frequently shown in a more interesting light. Some of the first episodes were written by Fay Weldon.
The show does certainly provide an insight into home life for the rich and migthy at the turn of the 20th century. Ever since I first watched it, If I’m ever staying in one of these stucco-fronted, turned-into-accommodation houses, I can’t help but think of Upstairs Downstairs, and wonder whether I’m sleeping in a former kitchen, or, if I’m on the top floor, in a servants’ room.
The Bellamy’s Belgravia home was 165 Eaton Place. The actual house used for exterior shots still stands at 65 Eaton Place (see photos below), and it has become a sort of tradition for me to drop by whenever I’m around (as well as nearby 54 Eaton Square, Vivien Leigh’s apartment). For more information on the location read this: https://www.updown.org.uk/thehouse/house1.htm
Brideshead Revisited (Granada, 1981)
TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel by the same title, it is set in the period between 1923 and 1945. It is part of a string of so-called ‘heritage’ films and TV shows made during the 1980s, in Thatcherite times, apparently aimed at romanticising the past, promoting a sort of nostalgia, and making viewers forget about the social situation at the time. Be that as it may, I confess I binge-watched the show at the Faculty’s film library in my day, and probably cried a few times while doing it. I was mesmerised by Jeremy Irons’ soothing voice and accent.
However, one of the protagonists of the fiction is Brideshead itself, the location for which was Castle Howard, in York. It has also served as a film location for Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975). If you want to visit it, you can find more information here.
The scenes in the first episodes when the two protagonists first met at University were filmed on location in Oxford- more about it here.
Downton Abbey (ITV, 2010-2015):
A sort of Upstairs-Downstairs for the 21st century. Ideologically objectionable if you think about it for a second: the text seems somehow to support the patronising attitudes of the Crawleys regarding their servants; and in times of crisis, when the English Establishment seems to be crumbling down, the text is forcing you to really want the aristocrats to remain the ruling class. However, if you willingly suspend your disbelief, and turn off your critical thought for a while, it does make for a very lavish soap opera.
Lady Grantham’s (Maggie Smith) quips very frequently steal the show: https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/film-tv/a4294/best-dowager-countess-quotes-downton-abbey/
Highclere Castle stands in for Downton Abbey. It also stood in as Totleigh Towers in Jeeves & Wooster (Granada 1990-1993), starring Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie. If you want to visit Highclere Castle you can take a train from London Waterloo or Paddington.
Sherlock (BBC, 2010-2018)
Reasons to watch 21st century BBC Sherlock:
- London at its best. You’ll be smitten with London (or fall in love with it all over again).
- Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman- top performances. And lovely British English.
- Really gripping plots, based on the original Conan Doyle stories, but with the right twists.
Four seasons have been broadcast so far. It is uncertain whether there will be any more seasons.
The exterior used for 221b Baker Street is actually 187 North Gower Street, just next to Euston Square tube. Again, a must for me whenever I’m around. Unfortunately, the inside of Sherlock’s flat is filmed in a studio in Cardiff.
187 North Gower Street
St. Bart’s hospital (City of London)
No spoilers, but a key scene in the show takes place here.
The British Academy (Carlton Terrace, St. James’s), standing in as the Diogenes club (Mycroft Holmes’s club):
Finally, here are some pictures of 23-24 Leinster gardens, a key spot in episode 3-03 (‘His Last Vow’). This stuccoed terrace holds a big secret- metaphorically in the show, and literally, in the building itself: it’s an absolute fake. It’s only got the front, but there’s no actual house behind it. Full explanation here.
All of Sherlock’s locations: http://www.sherlockology.com/locations
Twenty Twelve (BBC, 2011-2012):
A BBC fly-on-the-wall mockumentary about the leading team in charge of setting up the 2012 London Olympic Games, starring Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey).
The very roots of the Establishment are made fun of all through the show, with lots of inside jokes and cameos:
This Olympic committee is based in a clearly recognisable Canary Wharf office. Obviously, Stratford and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (now, West Ham united stadium) are mentioned, and feature at some points in the show.
If you would like to visit Stratford with a local guide, who can show you their area for free, you can contact London greeters. More about voluntary greeters here.
W1A (BBC, 2014-):
A spin-off of Twenty Twelve, showing the inner workings of the BBC. Funny meta-fiction about the corporation, poking fun at itself. Ian Fletcher (Head of deliverance) has to find work after the end of the Olympics, and he lands another senior position at the BBC.
Portland Place, New Broadcasting house (Regent Street), features prominently. If you want to be inside the BBC, you can be part of the audience of a show.
BBC new broadcasting house- radio theatre
The Crown (Netflix, 2016-):
I’m not sure how interesting the Royals are in real life, but Netflix’s Elizabeth and Margaret provide us with really gripping scenes. The show starts with Elizabeth Windsor’s marriage to Philip Mountbatten and follows their lives as they become Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, and the political and personal challenges they have to face.
The show provides plenty of opportunities to see London, Windsor, Balmoral, Sandringham…However, not all locations may be as real as they look. Never mind, they are still very pleasant to watch.
A Very English Scandal (BBC, 2018):
Based on a true story that hit the headlines in the 1970s, about Jeremy Thorpe, a liberal, closet gay MP, who, in order to avoid being blackmailed by a former lover, hired a gunman to kill him. However, the whole plan was a shambles, and it came to light. The show balances the elements of a crime plot, political shenanigans, and dark comedy. Written by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen…).
Hugh Grant at his very finest (some reviews say it’s the role of a lifetime for him).
If you would be interested to visit the palace of Westminster, click here. You can go on a tour (£), or watch a debate at the House of Commons (free).
Cunk on Britain (2018):
Philomena Cunk is a spoof comedy character created by Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror), played by comedian Diane Morgan. The show is a tongue-in-cheek parody of BBC documentaries, this time, discussing the history of Britain. And definitely, with the least likely BBC-RP accent you may come across.
You can also find Philomena Cunk on Cunk on Christmas and Cunk on Shakespeare.
Good Omens (Amazon-BBC, 2019):
This adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s novel Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch is set in London (one of the main characters runs a bookshop in Soho), and in rural England, in a fictional village called Tadfield (assumed to be near Oxford). Very English show all along, featuring some American characters as well. The locations include, aside from Soho, St. James’s Park, The Sky Garden, Shakespeare’s Globe…